Of the types of spiders commonly found in the Kansas garden, almost all are entirely harmless to humans. Most spider species are, in fact, beneficial garden residents because they prey on insects that may be harmful to plants.
Garden spiders belong to a group of spiders known as orb weavers because of the large circular webs they build. Garden spiders typically build their webs between plants or other supports in the garden and then lie in wait for insects that get entangled in the web.
Garden spiders common in Kansas include the black and yellow garden spider and the banded garden spider. The female black and yellow garden spider is marked with bright black and yellow markings and has a body length of up to an inch. The banded garden spider is slightly smaller and is marked with thinner black, silver and yellow stripes. The males of both species are much smaller than the females.
Crab spiders are hunting spiders, which means that they actively stalk their prey rather than wait in a web for prey to come to them. In the garden, they hunt on the leaves and stems of plants, and some species lurk on the petals of flowers, where their coloring helps them to hide from prey.
The goldenrod or flower spider is a type of crab spider commonly found in Kansas. Females may be up to 1/2 inch long with pale white or bright yellow coloring, sometimes with pink stripes along the sides of the abdomen. Males are smaller with darker markings.
Jumping spiders are also hunting spiders and similar in size to the flower spider. The bold jumping spider is, however, hairier than the flower spider, and it is black with lighter spots on the top of its abdomen. It is notable for its keen eyesight, quick movements and prodigious leaping ability, all of which it uses in hunting its prey. Jumping spiders hunt during daylight hours, and they're often found in bright, sunny areas, such as on garden foliage, walls or windowsills.
Wolf spiders are large, hairy spiders with body lengths of up to 1/2 inch and long legs. They are dark brown or gray, with slightly paler markings that may be difficult to discern. Wolf spiders are typically nocturnal, roaming in search of prey at night and hiding under rocks and in secluded parts of the garden during the day.
Grass spiders are also large, with body lengths up to 3/4 inch. They are hairy brown spiders that can be distinguished from wolf spiders by their distinctive spinnerets, a pair of pointed appendages at the tail-end of their abdomens. Grass spiders are web builders; they construct sheet-like webs in the grass or foliage in the garden and then hide in a funnel-like silk tube at one side of the web to pounce on prey that falls into the web.
The black widow is the only spider in Kansas that poses a potential danger to humans. The female black widow's body length is about 1/2 inch, and it has a shiny black body with a red hourglass-shaped marking on the underside of its abdomen. The spider builds its web in out-of-the-way places and rarely leaves it.
The female black widow's bite can cause a severe reaction, but females will usually only bite when directly threatened. Male black widows are smaller than females and lighter in color, often with a red or light brown stripe down their backs and light-colored streaks on the sides of their abdomens. Male black widows aren't dangerous.
Tarantulas are the largest spiders in Kansas, and they are most commonly found in the southern part of the state. Sometimes called the Texas brown tarantula, this spider is hairy, dark brown or black, and can reach a body length of up to 2 inches. Despite its large size, the tarantula poses no significant danger to humans, and its bite is usually no more harmful than a bee sting. It tends to shy away from activity, usually hiding under rocks or other objects in the garden.